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Hanging Out In Rockford: Traveling in time—Part 3: enter the repair trucks

July 1, 1993

Rising from his slumber, our itinerant motorcycle rider is hungry. Traveling north for about an hour, he arrives in Eagle River. Why do they call it Eagle River he wonders. Then he realizes he has been here before. His friend E.J. lives right down that road. He thinks about stopping to see his friend, but decides not to. This time was meant for being alone. He has much to think about.

Stopping at a convenience store, he asks the clerk if there is anywhere in town where you can get a good cup of coffee. She points to a place right across the street. Doubtful, he drives over, then parks, then decides to go in. Lake trout with two eggs over easy and great coffee (Who would have ever guessed?). Talks to a woman who used to live in Rockford. “Camp Grant, what is it now?” “Rockford airport,” he says. Used to deliver soda there for Rockford RC Cola with Terry Wang off the big semi.

Out the road and then north. An eagle circles overhead. See the sign, Ontonagon, think about the old girlfriend riding the motorcycle without her shirt. (That’s for you, Eric.) Should he go? No, been there before, go somewhere else. Stop in Bruce Crossing. Have a beer. Look at the map. Walking out, he remembers the great meal he had once at the little restaurant that used to be right across the street. Homemade bread, meatloaf and pan gravy. So impressed that he tried to stop there again; only his friend Howard got it wrong and was already waiting at the other place, the place he went to this time, because the place with the good meatloaf and homemade bread had been torn down.

Decides to go to Houghton, then Freda. Follow 45 to Rockland, then branch off on 26. In Houghton he gets lost. Can’t find the road to Freda. Stop in a service station. Ask people riding Harleys for directions. “Where’s your helmet? Have to have a helmet in Michigan.” The Harley rider seems genuinely irritated no one had stopped him for riding without his helmet. Turn around again. Stop at a small restaurant. Finally, good directions. Take the first left just down the bill. Turn left by the gas station bar. Riding now, straight toward the lake, eight miles of winding road, baroomm.

Finally in Freda, the Superior restaurant. Looks wonderful. Great view of the lake. Go in. Just want a beer. No beer here. Go back eight miles to the gas station. Better call about the registers. Calls his friend Megan. No answer. Calls Karen at the Minglewood, better luck this time. “How are you? Where are you? How is everything?” “Fine. Can you do me a favor, the computer registers?” How to do it. Go through the whole procedure. “I’ll go over there right away,” she says, “but I don’t think you have electricity.” Then she relates the story of the storm.

Call his partner (the lovely ex-wife). No power, had to take all the food to the other restaurant. Call his neighbor Chad (the wine bar and restaurant). Want to split a generator? Phone running out of power. Walk around outside going “Can you hear me?” Go back to the bar, order another beer. Might as well go to Aura, no power, hot apartment, why go home? From Aura, go to Skanee. Get lost, have to turn around and go back the other way. Trip of reversals. Sitting in a bar in Skanee, making friends with the locals, brothers. Good-looking woman bartender. Better head home, can’t really relax knowing what has happened.

Go back the same way, won’t need a map. Stay the night in Pelican Lake again. Only this time it is roast pork shank and homemade pickled chicken giblets, homemade liver and fresh sweet peas. Not such good luck at the little hotel. Have to stay two nights. New rule. Ride down the road and stay at a hotel managed by an Indian. At least 100 degrees in the lobby.

The next day he rides home. He decides to be part of the parking lot on the interstate, but then gets off in Janesville to follow the old highway. Coming into Rockford, he sees 75 Commonwealth Edison trucks at the North Towne Shopping Mall. Why aren’t they out working? he wonders. The power is on at the bar and restaurant, but too late to open now. He calls his friend Izzy. “Want to have dinner?” She agrees. They go first to Chen’s, then the Great Wall, both closed. Undeterred, they drive to The Royal Dragon. Sitting in the front window, Izzy counts 25 ComEd trucks. Leaving the restaurant, they wave at the trucks. The drivers wave back like liberators entering a fallen city.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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